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Phone Etiquette: Saving Time on Dropped Calls

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One simple cell phone etiquette rule will save us all many hours.

You will recognize the context:

Say you are driving north down Highway 101 from Palo Alto to San Francisco at about 3:00 PM on Friday afternoon. You dial your friend in New York and reach him as he is heading home to rest before going out to dinner. He’s on the E Train.

You are in the midst of an important discussion. And, then, just before he heads into Brooklyn Heights, he says “If I lose you going under the water, I’ll . . .” You hear silence, and, then, silence. . Gone! Lost connection, and who knows exactly what the last words were your friend heard?

You wait for about how long you know it takes for the E Train to resurface on the other side of the East River. Here, then, is the sequence of events that follow:

  1. You redial
  2. You hear a busy signal, and hang up
  3. You see a message waiting on your cell phone screen
  4. You are near certain it is from the friend you were just speaking with saying “tag, I'm trying to call you back," so you redial again
  5. You think you are about to connect, but you hear the call waiting signal. You check your screen for the incoming number. Sure enough, it’s your friend calling you back again. You try to click over, but he’s already gone back to voice mail.
  6. You hit the red button several times to terminate any call left connected
  7. You wait for your friend to dial again, but nothing happens because now your friend is also waiting
  8. You are both probably frustrated by now. You hit the green button again to dial, but now all the cells on Highway 101 are clogged with people planning their Friday evenings. Your call takes several minutes to get through and now you can hear that your friend is on the line with someone else.
  9. “Forget it,” you think, “I’ll catch him tomorrow.”

Who should call back and who should hold off?

Here’s the etiquette:

Don’t spend time guessing or presuming whose phone or location was responsible for the lost connection. That’s impossible for either party to know.

Whoever initiates the call should dial back, regardless. It’s simple and straightforward. You’ll both always know who that is and you will avoid a lot of confusion and wasted dialing and waiting.


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